Helicopter safety in spotlight after 2 weekend crashes

5 killed in NYC helicopter crash day after pilot unhurt in Jacksonville crash

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Two helicopter crashes over the weekend called to mind the dangers of aviation.

Authorities said five passengers, who were in tight safety harnesses, were killed Sunday when a helicopter went down Sunday in New York City's East River. The pilot was able to free himself and was rescued.

Back in Jacksonville, police said, a pilot was uninjured when a helicopter crashed Saturday in an open field on Fort Caroline Road near the St. Johns River.

News4Jax on Monday looked at both accidents with Harald Siegl, the pilot of the SKY4 helicopter.

Siegl said helicopters are complex and they can be more difficult to fly than most planes. He said a number of things could have gone wrong in New York City, so he did not want to speculate about the crash. But he said his heart goes out to everyone affected.

"I have friends fly up in New York," Siegl said. "When it happened yesterday, that's the first thing that pops in your head, 'Is it one of my friends?'"

A federal official later told The Associated Press that the pilot who survived a deadly helicopter crash in New York City's East River told investigators he believed a passenger's bag might have hit an emergency fuel shutoff switch in the moments before the chopper went down. The official was briefed on the investigation but was not authorized to speak publicly about it and spoke Monday on condition of anonymity.

The pilot was heard on an emergency radio transmission saying there was an engine failure.

Siegl, who has been flying helicopters for about five years, said there are multiple reasons as to why engine failure occurs.

"Fuel starvation, faulty parts, could be pilot error," he said.

There are helicopter tours that fly out of Northeast Florida daily. 

When the small, private chopper crashed Saturday in Jacksonville, police said, the pilot was able to walk away without injury.

To survive something like that, Siegl said the pilot probably had "a little bit of both" skill and luck.

Siegl said the crashes are why he's extra careful every time he flies.

"Definitely makes me more cautious about what I do," he said. "It makes me even more precise about preflight inspections and making sure that you don't miss something."

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating both the deadly crash in New York City and the Jacksonville crash. The National Transportation Safety Board is not investigating the Jacksonville crash because it said there wasn't any property damage or any serious injuries. The NTSB is the lead agency investigating the crash in New York City.

Copyright 2018 by WJXT News4Jax. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.